“The Scandal of the Century: And Other Writings” is a repository of wonderful things. There is storytelling here. There are fascinating asides, and perfect verbal sketches of people and places. There is rumination on life, and speculation on the importance and joys of literature. But most of all, there is a love of the pure practice of writing. All of this is termed, in this book, “journalism.” This is not so much inexact as it is overly constricting, although this constriction lies more in our minds, I think, than in the mind of the author.
Gabriel Gar—a M?rquez was a deservedly revered novelist and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. What many of his readers do not remember (or perhaps what many of his North American readers do not remember), however, is that Mr. M?rquez also wrote continually throughout his life for newspapers and magazines. This book, a collection of 50 pieces spanning nearly the entirety of his career, sets out to remind us of that fact. And in this it succeeds magnificently.
We follow Mr. M?rquez from his early work — much of it about Colombian and South American politics, written while he was living in a boarding house that doubled as a bordello — through his more mature and worldly pieces to the end of his career, when he seems to have been concerned mostly with thinking about the state of literature, and with wrestling with the old and, for writers, ever-present question of what it means to write well. In all of this, we’re able to trace the skills and facets of his personality that made him such a tremendous novelist: his habit of turning even the smallest events into riveting narratives, his fascination with the particulars of human life, and his unparalleled ability to weave these narratives and particulars together into an enveloping vision of the world.
Beyond this, though, the book serves another fascinating purpose. It reminds us that beneath the distinction between fiction and nonfiction that seems so important in modern literary life, an importance confirmed by our obsession with inventing one awkward name after another for the merging of the two — “autofiction,” “creative nonfiction,” etc. — there is one bedrock thing: That is writing itself. The distinctions between Mr. M?rquez’s fiction and journalism must all be applied after the fact. The voice is the same. The stories are the same. The moral authority is the same. And Mr. M?rquez’s final and most challenging assertion, it seems to me, is that the relationship to the truths of human life is the same.